Neil Drabble, Shami Chakrabarti, 11 May 2005, C-type colour print, 380 mm x 380 mm, National Portrait Gallery, Purchased, 2005, NPG x127774.
Neil Drabble, Mick Hucknall Photoshoot (Mick Hucknall), 2007.
Neil Drabble, Editorial from the Guardian feature, Copyright Neil Drabble.
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The Great Masturbator on Holiday.
November 20, 2010-January 23, 2011
Neil Drabble’s work is sharply conceived; developing ideas through installation, sculpture, text, photography and performance. It is tempting to compare some of his methods and results to those of contemporary satirists and comedians — take Russell Brand’s oblique comments to the U.S. electorate at the MTV awards when urging them to vote for Barack Obama. He said, "some people say that you’re not ready for a black president, but I know America to be a free thinking, forward-thinking, liberal country, afterall you’ve had that retarded cowboy fella in the White House for 8 years."
While on holiday in Spain this summer, Drabble made a series of temporary sculptures, some were then photographed, to become pieces themselves, and some remained sculptures and were brought home. The Great Masturbator on Holiday is a selection of those pieces, which all share three clear assumptions at inception:
• That the title would be appropriated from a list of works made by Salvador Dali.
• That only the immediate locale of the Drabble holiday home would be used to photograph each sculpture (specifically, environments provided by backdrops in the garage, near the garden wall and on a desk in the house)
• That only items (or people) "found on-site," would be used to make the work.
With the title suggesting the image, rather than the other way around, an alignment with conceptual art is apparent "Ideas alone can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form," and "All ideas need not be made physical — For each work of art that becomes physical, there are many variations that do not" . It’s not uncommon to begin with a title and then to set about making the work. The Last Supper is a case in point; a pre-given title, tackled by many a painter through history. As viewers, we have certain expectations about what that painting will contain, we expect to see a table with diners seated around it and some kind of depiction of the "moment" or "incident" known to be the key part of that story. This is when the title / image relationship has a narrative function or one that we are complicit with, on cultural or societal levels.
In The Great Masturbator on Holiday, many pieces present religious themes and / or a tendency for the absurd. With his three assumptions in place, Drabble was able to facilitate a rich, visual discourse in the making of the work that freely moved from literal interpretations to more circuitous ones; personal interpretations and ones we can all share and often recognise. An example of the latter would be the use of the title Saint Sebastian, which is so front-loaded with historical and metaphorical meaning that the outcome would surely reflect that …
… and so for his own piece titled Saint Sebastian, Drabble made a small sculpture consisting of a candlestick with a boiled egg perched on top. The egg is bound with thread and then pierced by pins and needles, whilst yolk drips and flows down the candlestick’s sides. The resulting photograph is a clear reference to paintings by Guido Reni and Mantegna, artists that revelled in the homo-erotic possibilities that the Martyrdom of Sebastian presented, and whose image, over time, has become a gay icon; further reference to which is made by the phallic shape of the object itself and the profusion and conflict of gender biased signs and symbols. Our existing knowledge (or lack of it) of the historical subject, creates a convoluted experience of the work that won’t sit still in the mind. "How can a boiled egg sitting on top of a candlestick look comical and slightly worrying at the same time?"
Using the ready-made title Duck, we are also presented with certain expectations — because we know what a duck looks like. Neil Drabble’s approximated image (two lemons sit jauntily one on top of the other) is acceptable enough to make us want to work with him, we want it to be a duck, we look for the likeness, and we take pleasure in the recognition of how it could be one — even though we can see quite clearly, it is actually, just two lemons.
 Henry Flynt, 1961 (Theories and Documents in Contemporary Art, A sourcebook of artists’ writings – edited by Christine Stiles and Peter Selz).